Essex children's services has been judged to be 'outstanding' by Ofsted, which said services for children have continued to improve since the previous inspection in 2014.
Senior leaders know their communities and services well and are responsive to children’s changing needs and national thinking about best practice, the inspection of children's services found.
"Inspirational senior leaders, supported by good corporate and political support and strong partnerships, are tenaciously ambitious for children. They have developed a well-trained, highly skilled workforce. The relationship strengths-based practice model is fully embedded and well understood by partner agencies," said the report.
Essex has combined learning from their own quality assurance and performance management arrangements with peer reviews and inspections to develop a clear self-assessment and to target resources effectively.
Innovative practice is having a tangible, positive impact for children and their families. Effective management oversight across Essex ensures that services are of a consistently high standard in all four geographical areas in which children’s services are organised, added Ofsted.
The experiences and progress of children who need help and protection are outstanding.
- Children and families who need help and protection receive a timely, proportionate and highly effective response.
- An exceptional early help service makes a significant difference for children and families.
- The highly effective model of practice is underpinned by a shared understanding across Essex that children should be supported to grow up in their own families when it is safe for them to do so.
- When risk increases for children, timely, good-quality child protection strategy discussions take place, with consistently good attendance by relevant partners.
- The vast majority of children’s plans, including early help and child in need plans, are of a high quality.
- Management oversight of practice is thoroughly embedded and purposeful.
- Staff respond robustly to the needs of children at risk of child exploitation and those missing from home and/or missing from care.
The experiences and progress of children in care and care leavers are good. Ofsted noted:
- A range of good-quality services, including the highly effective D-BIT, enable children on the edge of care to remain in family arrangements.
- Leaders and managers are focused on strengthening placement stability.
- Children in care and care leavers enjoy and benefit from a wide range of activities and opportunities that enable them to enjoy life and make good progress.
- Unaccompanied asylum-seeking children benefit from sensitive and highly effective help and care.
- Managers are ambitious in the placement of adoptive children, resulting in well-thought-out, child-centred placements, including for older children and brothers and sisters.
- Since the last inspection, leaders have improved oversight of service delivery to care leavers.
The impact of leaders on social work practice with children and families is outstanding. The report stated:
- Senior leaders are unrelenting in their pursuit of excellence for children.
- The stable group of capable leaders and managers has an unerring focus on improving services and ensuring high aspirations for children.
- Leaders and managers have a comprehensive understanding of service strengths and emerging challenges, underpinned by a thorough and accurate self-assessment.
- Strong political and corporate support and carefully targeted investment have enabled the local authority to manage demand and prioritise children’s needs across the council.
- Senior leaders have invested effectively in the children’s workforce.
"Staff value the training they receive," said the report. "Low levels of agency staffing and a timely response to recruitment mean that caseloads are low, giving social workers the time and space to build meaningful relationships and do purposeful work with children and families."
"Staff enjoy working in Essex; morale and motivation are high. Workers describe the work they are able to undertake with children and families as the reason they came into social work," the report concluded.
Ofsted said that in a small minority of cases involving disabled children, plans could be further strengthened with more time-specific actions and a more ambitious child-focus, to ensure rigour in monitoring the pace of progress. Senior leaders have reviewed disabled children’s services and are taking action to strengthen consistency and share the strongest practice across teams.
It recommends that Essex improves the consistency in planning for disabled children and care leavers.